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Ryan O’Byrne
Postgraduate Taught Programmes Officer
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Volker Sommer
Programme Tutor
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 8838

MSc Human Evolution and Behaviour

About the Programme

Evolutionary theory has radically altered our understanding of human life. Against this background, our master course is designed to provide students with a solid practical and theoretical grounding in issues relevant to the evolution of human and non-human primates. The compulsory programme involves (a) a core module covering a choice of two topics from three that are on offer (Palaeoanthropology, Primate Socioecology, Human Behavioural Ecology; one; one of the three modules can also be taken as an option); (b) graduate research methods (statistics); (c) attendance at the research seminar in biological anthropology. Students also choose three options from a variety of topics (Advanced Human Evolution, Anthropological and Archaeological Genetics, Archaeology of Hunter-Gatherers, Dental Anthropology, Evolution of Human Brain, Cognition and Language, Evolution of the Human Brain and Behaviour, Primate Evolution, Variation and Evolution of the Human Skull; Practical Ethnographic and Documentary Filmmaking). Assessment is largely based on examination, essays and an MSc thesis.

This programme has run successfully since 1996, taught and supervised by academics who are internationally recognised researchers and leaders in their fields.

Our one-year masters programme offers a unique combination of courses related to primate and human evolution, ecology, behaviour and genetics.

Frequently asked Questions

Q: How many students attend the course?

A: We aim for yearly cohorts of 12–15 students with various academic backgrounds and nationalities. Since the inception of the programme in 1996, we have successfully maintained these low numbers as they translate into a healthy ratio of students to teachers / supervisors. Nevertheless, numbers may be higher or lower during certain years.

Q: How international is the student body?

A: About half of each cohort consists of non-UK students, from, e.g., nations such as Argentina, Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Greece, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain or USA. Of course, UCL itself might well be the most internationalised university in the world - with students from 150 nations and staff from at least 100 nations.

Q: Can I take the course part-time?

A: Yes. Each year, 1–2 students are part-timers. Typically, during year one, students will enrol in the core course and one option, and during year two, complete the remaining options and work towards their dissertation.

Q: Should I discuss my intention to apply with the programme tutor?

A: This is not normally necessary. Applicants at 2:1 standard or above (in progress or achieved) in a relevant discipline (Anthropology, Biological Sciences, Human Sciences, Zoology, Archaeology, Chemistry, Genetics) will be automatically accepted. (Note: UCL registry will check if qualifications of non-UK applicants are equivalent to a 2:1 standard; e.g., a US-grade of B+ would be sufficient.) However, if your academic background is non-biological, then you might want to get some feedback from the tutor before you send in your application.

Q: I do not have a biological background. Can I still apply?

A: Applications with a background in a non-relevant discipline will not be automatically accepted but passed on to the admissions tutor for consideration. We explicitly welcome applicants from a variety of background – including the humanities – as long as they have a strong interest in evolutionary theory. Typically, each year, there will be students whose first degree is in, for example, economics, philosophy, medicine or psychology.

Q: Once enrolled, can I take more than the prescribed number of modules or modules from outside the programme diet?

A: No. You cannot take more than the prescribed number of courses, although individual tutors may allow you to audit their modules. However, experience tells that your workload is such that the desire to do additional courses will quickly disappear from your wishlist. Moreover, you are limited to the courses listed in the programme – these are the only modules, which you can enrol in for credit.

Q: Are there scholarships for this course?

A: There are no quota scholarships for this course; it is therefore unlikely that applicants will succeed in having their fees paid. However, numerous non-UK countries have sources that allow their citizens to study in the UK.

Q: How do I identify a suitable topic for my dissertation?

A: We expect our students to conduct original research for their theses. In fact, theses results will often get published in respected scientific journals or edited volumes (see publication list under the "Career"-tab). The first half of the course – the taught component, i.e., term 1 and term 2 – will enable you to identify and develop a topic that interests you and to make contact with a potential supervisor. This advisor is a member of staff who teaches on the course, but can also be an academic from outside the programme who acts as de-facto supervisor. You will be given advice if an envisioned project can be realistically executed during the available time allocated to project work, i.e., from early April to September. You can come up with your own project idea or you can select a topic from a list that staff members will provide by the end of term 1. During term 2, you will be expected to develop your research idea. In late March, all students deliver a formal presentation of their project plans. Research will typically start by early April. Part-time students have more flexibility with respect to this timeframe, given their 2-year schedule.

Q: I might want to do fieldwork for my project; is there funding for this?

A: Data collection for the dissertation typically takes place from April till June (3 months). Facilitated by the chosen supervisor, about half of all students will collect their data outside England (past destinations include Bangla Desh, Cameroon, China, Congo, Congo, Costa Rica, DR Congo, Germany, Iran, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Peru, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand). The costs for a three-month stint of fieldwork, e.g., in Asia, Africa or South America, will typically not exceed 2,000 £, including travel costs. The department often offers competitive bursaries of a few hundred pounds to facilitate this, but the bulk of the costs is normally borne by the students.

Q: How are students faring in terms of degree classes?

A: About 50% of the students attain a first class degree (distinction), 45% pass with merit and 5% pass without merit. These figures are quite constant throughout the years.

Q: What are my chances of doing a PhD afterwards?

A: Our MSc is a perfect lead-in to a doctorate. About half of the students taking this programme succeed in securing funding for a PhD – even though this may not happen immediately after the degree is conferred. Many of our alumni have become well-known academics (see "Career"-tab for notable alumni).

Q: What non-academic career options are opened up by this degree?

A: There is no standard career for somebody with an MSc in anthropology. However, graduates from this course have, for example, become professionals in the media (TV, radio, publishing), in NGOs (community development, nature conservation), government organisations (national statistics, health programmes) in zoos and museums (curators, research coordinators) or embarked on a career as teachers in high schools (see "Career"-tab for recent first destinations).

Programme Diet

Compulsory core course modules (25% of overall marks for the degree; thus, each of the three compulsory elements counts 8.3%)

3 optional modules (25%; thus, each option counts 8.3%)

MSc Dissertation (50%)

Involvement in the Department's research environment

  • Weekly 2-h departmental seminar
  • Occasional attendance at non-departmental seminars

Summary of Module Compositions

MSc HEB full time
  • Compulsory core course: AnthGH03 plus two of the following three (AnthGH14, AnthGH15, AnthGH16)
  • Options - select 3 from the following list: AnthGH02, AnthGH04, AnthGH07, AnthGH08, AnthGH14 (if not selected as core course), AnthGH15 (if not selected as core course), AnthGH16 (if not selected as core course), AnthGH17, AnthGS17/20/25 (additional fee applies), ArclG128, ArclG144, ArclG145, ArclG183, ArclG271
  • Dissertation
MSc HEB part time, year 1
  • compulsory core course: AnthGH03 plus two of the following three (AnthGH14, AnthGH15, AnthGH16)
  • aim to select 1 of 3 compulsory options (recommended): AnthGH02, AnthGH04, AnthGH07, AnthGH08, AnthGH14 (if not selected as core course), AnthGH15 (if not selected as core course), AnthGH16 (if not selected as core course), AnthGH17, AnthGS17/20/25 (additional fee applies), ArclG128, ArclG144, ArclG145, ArclG183, ArclG271
MSc HEB part time, year 2
  • select remaining options from list above
  • dissertation


See the exemplary timetable for the 2015–16 session. It is not possible to predict the exact timetabling until a new session starts, but the schedule will be very similar. Most courses will be taught by the listed members of staff; however, staff changes, sabbaticals and buy-outs when grants have been obtained might necessitate changes.


Core Course Modules

Human Behavioural Ecology – ANTHGH14 (Ruth Mace, Andrea Migliano)

  • Weekly 2-h post-graduate seminar
  • Recommended attendance of weekly 2-h undergraduate lecture (ANTH7018 Human Behavioural Ecology)
  • Assessment: 1.5-h exam (50%), 2000-word essay (50%)

This component is about the evolution of behaviour in humans. It examines how much of the variation in behaviour can be understood in terms of maximizing reproductive success in different ecological and social circumstances. There is increasing recognition that Darwinian approaches can contribute to our understanding of human demography, health, psychology and culture, in hunter-gatherer, traditional and modern agricultural and post-industrial societies. The course will cover those aspects of our behaviour and life history that have parallels in numerous species, and also those that may be uniquely human (such as menopause and the demographic transition), including how cultural evolution has influenced our behaviour. The subjects covered in the weekly seminars will relate to those covered in the optional undergraduate lectures, but the first two thirds of the lecture course is about theory and its application to animals, with the last third being exclusively about humans, whereas the seminar will concentrate on humans exclusively throughout. Areas covered: theoretical approaches to the study of behavioural and evolutionary ecology (such as kin selection, the comparative method and optimality), social evolution (altruism, social living, life history theory, reproductive strategies).

Primate Socioecology – ANTHGH15 (Volker Sommer)

  • Weekly 2-h post-graduate seminar
  • Recommended attendance of weekly 2-h undergraduate lecture (ANTH7009 Primate Behaviour and Ecology) and 1-day visit to London Zoo
  • Assessment: 2000-word essay (40%), 1.5-h exam (60%)

Several hundred species including humans belong to the mammalian order of primates. Like all animals, prosimians, monkeys and apes are faced with the problems of how to survive, breed and rear offspring. Some do better in this regard than others - they have a higher reproductive success and their genetic information is more frequently represented in future generations. The course focuses on current Darwinian theories about how primates organise their social and reproductive strategies to adapt to specific environmental conditions and how these challenges are reflected in their cognitive abilities. The module also creates awareness for the plight of our closest living relatives as their continued existence on this planet is increasingly endangered. Topics include ecological competition; sexual selection; mating and breeding systems; parenting; intra-specific aggression; cognition, with focus on technological and social intelligence (particularly deception); cultural zoology; animal rights. With visit to London Zoo.

Palaeoanthropology – ANTHGH16 (María Martinón-Torres, Anna Barros)

  • Weekly 2-h post-graduate seminar (Anna Barros) plus weekly 2 h lab class (María Martinón-Torres, Anna Barros)
  • Recommended attendance of weekly 2-h undergraduate lecture (ANTH2003 Palaeoanthropology, María Martinón-Torres)
  • Assessment: 2000-word essay (40%), 1.5-h exam (60%)

This course introduces the fossil evidence for human evolution and its interpretation. It includes an introduction to techniques of species recognition and phylogenetic reconstruction as well as to the molecular evidence of the human line in the Miocene (23 - 5.5 mya). The second half of the course looks at the evolution and adaptation of the genus Homo, its spread out of Africa and the controversies surrounding subsequent evolution of modern humans. -- The laboratory sessions aim to familiarize you with (1) the relevant comparative anatomy, (2) the casts of the relevant fossils, and (3) the methodology and techniques necessary to interpreter the fossil material.

Post-graduate methods/statistics – ANTHGH03 (Lucio Vinicius)

  • Assessment: weekly coursework (50%), 3-h exam (50%)

The course assumes no background knowledge of either statistics or related software, but provides an introduction from their very basics. Topics include an introduction to R language, distributions, hypothesis testing (t-tests, proportion tests, ANOVA), correlation, linear regression, multivariate statistics (multiple regression, PCA, discriminant analysis) and logistic regression.

Optional Modules

Note: Not all options might be on offer during each session, as academics might be on sabbatical. Moreover, a minimum number of 5 students are required for any one option to be run. In reality, this is almost always achieved, as students often originate from various programmes. Options administered by the Institute of Archaeology prioritise students from IoA MSc programmes. There might be slight changes to lecturers and course requirements from year to year.


Advanced Statistics (Statistics 2) - ANTHGH04 (Lucio Vinicius)

  • Weekly 3-h seminar / lab
  • Assessment: coursework (50%), exam (50%)

This optional module is being created specifically for students in the MSc Human Evolution and Behaviour, designed to follow the compulsory module ANTHGH03 (Statistics 1). The module builds on the basic material introduced in Term 1 and introduces students to more advanced statistical techniques, such as logistic regression, survival analysis, mixed-effects models, multilevel analysis and phylogenetic regressions.

Advanced Human Evolution: - ANTHGH02

  • Weekly 2-h post-graduate seminar
  • Assessment: 3000-word essay

Note: This generic module title has been created so as to allow flexibility with respect to the academic who will teach it. The specific course content is not known until shortly before a new session starts. -- For example, in 2015/2016, Kit Opie taught this module under the following description: "Advanced Human Evolution: Evolution of Social Behaviour using Comparative Methods. Comparison is fundamental to evolutionary anthropology. This course will explore the use of comparative methods to investigate the evolution of social behaviour in primates, hominins and modern humans. In particular we will focus on the use of the latest phylogenetics methods (using family trees of the relationships between species or cultures) to test evolutionary hypotheses about the origin and drivers of change in social systems. ‘Tree thinking’ is one of the new approaches currently gaining ground in evolutionary anthropology, and these methods have already been used to study many aspects of social behaviour including: the evolution of primate mating and social systems, hominin dietary adaptation and brain evolution, and the evolution of political and kinship systems. There will be a practical session to learn the basics of the new phylogenetic techniques."

Primate Evolution – ANTHGH17 (Christophe Soligo)

  • Weekly 2-h post-graduate seminar
  • Recommended attendance of (a) weekly 2-h practical lab-class, (b) weekly 2-h undergraduate lecture (ANTH3052 Primate Evolution and Environments), (c) 1-day palaeontological field trip
  • Assessment: 3000-word essay

The course will cover topics relating to primate evolution from the origin of the order through to the modern day. Specific subjects for discussion will be chosen each year following latest developments in the field, but will tend to focus on central issues, in particular the environmental and chronological context of major clade diversifications, species diversity and adaptive innovations. After completion of the course, students should have a good understanding of key issues and current research in the field of primate evolution. They will have gained a good knowledge of extant and extinct primate diversity and will be in a position to critically assess and inform key topical debates relating to primate evolution, but also, more broadly, to apply their knowledge to current societal issues relating, for example, to species conservation or climate change.

Anthropological and Archaeological Genetics – ANTHGH07 (Andrea Migliano, Mark Thomas)

  • Weekly 2-h post-graduate seminar
  • Assessment: 3000-word essay

The development of molecular techniques for the analysis of DNA has proved to be rapid over the last 20 years and many of these new methods are now finding applications in the fields of Anthropology and Archaeology. These applications include the study of inherited diseases, determination of kinship patterns within and between populations, the reconstruction of past population movements and the study of infectious diseases in past populations. In addition, patterns of genetic variation have enabled researchers to address questions relating to the origins of modern humans and the relationship between humans and other primates. This course will cover the nature of genetic material, genetic variation, mutation, molecular methodologies (including ancient DNA techniques) and some of the demographic questions being tackled using molecular techniques. Format: At least half of the course is lecture-based, with some seminars towards the end. There is no practical component.

Evolution of Human Brain, Cognition and Language – ANTHGH08 (Lucio Vinicius)

  • Weekly 2-h post-graduate seminar
  • Recommended attendance of weekly 2-h undergraduate lecture (ANTH7022 Human Brain, Cognition and Language)
  • Assessment: 4000-word essay (100%)
  • Students are advised to choose between ANTHGH08 and ARCLG183

The module will analyse human cognition from evolutionary and functional perspectives. The first part of the module places the human brain in a comparative and evolutionary context. The second part analyses differences and similarities between the human mind and other forms of animal cognition, and evolutionary models of brain and cognitive evolution, with emphasis on cultural intelligence models. The final part of the module is dedicated to language. We analyse the theories proposed by Chomsky, Pinker, the idea of a ‘universal grammar’, recent research in neurolinguistics, and models of language origins.

Practical Ethnographic and Documentary Filmmaking – ANTHGS17/20/25

  • Teaches technical skills needed to complete a 15-minute video project to broadcast standards using the cameras, workstations and facilities in the department's visual laboratory. Students will acquire practical, analytical and intellectual skills in using moving image and sound recording equipment and discover how new technologies create new methodologies
  • Assessed on the student's final 15-minute video project, devised, shot and edited during the course (80%), and 20% on a Project Diary
  • Note: This course entails an additional lab fee of ca. £1,000

The course offers practical training in the skills of observational ethnographic documentary digital video under the rubric that, "We live in a world of moving images and to communicate our ideas we need to be as fluent in the use of sound and imagery as in the printed or the spoken word". Filmmaking, that was once technically remote, is now universally accessible, even for a researcher with a mobile phone. The latest digital still cameras now shoot high-definition video and synchronous audio. Every researcher and fieldworker has the tools to hand. This course enables researchers to use them with skill and creativity to bring their academically informed genius to life with a vision that can reach out to a wider audience. Students will be trained in the technical and creative skills of video and digital technology to represent and document social and scientific research to broadcast standards under the guidance of an industry professional guiding them through both the practical skills, aesthetic and ethical approaches to visual representation.


Archaeology of Hunter-Gatherers from the Emergence of Modern Humans – ARCLG128 (Andrew Garrard)

  • A master’s-only course
  • Assessment: 3000-word essay

A detailed examination of some of the key issues in human ecology and behavioural evolution from the emergence of “cognitively-modern” humans in the early Upper Pleistocene until the beginnings of food production in the Holocene. The course will review contemporary debates on issues such as: the emergence of biological and behavioural modernity in Africa, the adaptations of hunter-gatherers to the harsh environmental conditions of the last glacial in Europe, the analysis and interpretation of Upper Palaeolithic cave-art, the nature of hunter-gatherer societies immediately prior to the transition to agriculture in Europe and the Near East, the colonization of Australia and the Americas and human involvement in megafaunal extinctions.

Variation and Evolution of the Human Skull – ARCLG144 (Simon Hillson)

  • A master’s-only course involving lectures and practicals
  • Assessment: essays and practical tests

A detailed introduction to the methodology used in the study of the skull in archaeology and physical anthropology, and the main current issues in research. It provides an anatomical background to the skull, as well as morphological variation, changes with age and development, and pathology, dealing specifically with the remains of Late Pleistocene and Holocene hominids, especially anatomically modern humans, but including Neanderthals. Upon successful completion of the course, students should be able to (i) identify confidently all the bones of the skull in both adult and juvenile remains; (ii) label the main features and landmarks of the skull; (iii) understand variation in size and shape of the skull, and its interpretation in terms of sexual dimorphism, growth and modern human origins; (iv) take the most commonly used skull measurements and have a working knowledge of the main statistical methods used to interpret them; (v) understand development of the skull and its role in estimating age at death; (vi) recognise the most common types of pathological lesions and developmental anomalies in the skull and discuss the ways in which they may be interpreted. The course is taught through lectures and practicals.

Dental Anthropology – ARCLG145 (Simon Hillson)

  • A master’s-only course involving lectures and practicals
  • Assessment: essays and practical tests

A detailed introduction to the methodology used in the study of teeth in archaeology and physical anthropology. It provides an anatomical background to the dentition, as well as the histology of dental tissues, morphological variation, changes with age and development, and dental pathology, dealing specifically with the remains of Late Pleistocene and Holocene hominids, concentrating on anatomically modern humans, but including Neanderthals. Upon completion of the course, students should be able to (i) identify all the elements of human jaws and dentition; (ii) label the main features of each tooth; (iii) variation in size and shape of the dentition, and its interpretation in terms of sexual dimorphism, evolution, migration and growth; (iv) understand developmental processes in the formation of the jaws and teeth, the different types of wear and the way in which they progress with age; (v) identify the key microscopic features in the histology of enamel, dentine and cement, and understand the main ways in which they can be used for anthropological research; (vi) have a good working knowledge of the role of dentition in estimation of age; (vii) identify and record the most common types of dental pathological lesions and understand the way in which they may be interpreted.

Evolution of the Human Brain and Behaviour – ARCLG183 (James Steele)

  • A master’s-only course
  • Assessment: One essay and one scientific research design (4,000 words total)
  • Students are advised to choose between ARCLG183 and ANTHGH08

This course will examine the evidence for the evolution of the uniquely human brain and style of cognition. Students will assess the evidence from a wide range of disciplines including not only archaeology and anthropology, but also cognitive neuroscience and neuroanatomy, comparative and developmental psychology, primatology and evolutionary biology, to investigate how and why human brains have adapted to their ecological and social environments to develop our distinctive forms of technology, language, social life and culture. By the end of the course, students will be familiar with the strengths and limitations of the different forms of evidence available, and how they inform on the evolution of brains and cognition among primates, hominins and humans.

Archaeology of Early Human Origins – ARCLG271 (Matt Pope)

  • A master’s-only course
  • Assessment: 3000-word essay, seminar presentation

The course will provide a detailed account of the Palaeolithic archaeological record associated with the evolution pre-modern humans in Africa and Eurasia. The course will cover the subject through exploration of the history of Palaeolithic archaeology, as well as the technological, taphonomic and theoretical frameworks necessary to a critical understanding of the archaeological record of human evolution.


The dissertation is based on independent research and thought. This may be achieved at an empirical level (by presenting source or case materials) or at a theoretical level (by exploring and synthesising previously published sources), or in a mixed manner. A good dissertation demonstrates awareness of similar research, situates itself critically in relation to what has come before and will also point to other areas of research. – The thesis supervisor will be chosen on the basis of topic and/or theoretical expertise, and is typically an instructor of a core course or option course. Other academics might act as supervisors during field or lab work phases, given that students will often collect dissertation data in research groups located outside UCL. – Length: Maximum of 15,000 words (for main text; excluding bibliography, tables, appendices). – The dissertation should aim to be suitable for publication in an appropriate scholarly journal (notwithstanding that it would have to be shortened and edited before it could be submitted).

Topics of dissertations from previous years:

Evolutionary Theory
  • An evaluation of the use of phenetic and cladistic methods for analysing different data types
  • An evolutionary analysis of tool using behaviour: a computer simulation of the behaviours of complex life
  • An investigation into factors influencing acceptance of the relevance of evolutionary theory applied to human behaviour
  • Calculating species numbers in extinct Hominoidea
  • Phylogenetic analysis of hominoid behavioural evolution
  • The evolution of the mammalian sex chromosome heteromorphism
  • The expensive tissue hypothesis: the relationship between basal metabolic rate and organ mass
  • A new method for exploring past migratory activity using biological or cultural variation data dispersed in space and time

  • A comparison of non-human primate vocal repertoires
  • A quantitative analysis of gibbon behavioural ecology
  • Activity and association pattern of wild olive baboons at Gashaka, Nigeria: spatial-temporal variation in relation to resource availability
  • Activity budgets of wild troops of white-faced capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica: the influence of age and sex, ecology and human presence
  • Are there sex differences in the use of landmarks and spatial gradients by non-human primates to locate food?
  • Bioacoustical analysis of free-ranging slender loris whistles: function and factors influencing their production
  • Counting the cost: investigating the relationship between expensive infant care and complex mating systems in neotropical primates
  • Duetting in gibbons: territorial defence or female advertising?
  • Growing pains: an investigation into the development of olive baboon infants
  • Handpicked for performance: hand preference in wild olive baboons
  • Heritability of life history and morphological traits in mandrills
  • Infanticide by males in non-human primates: maternal and infant counterstrategies
  • Phylogeny and biogeography of south east Asian primates
  • Playing safe: agonistic interactions and risk-management tactics of oestrous female rhesus macaques
  • Post-conflict behaviour of wild Hanuman langurs
  • Primate lifespan, mortality risk and the disposable soma theory of senescence
  • Primates and the bush meat crisis: does exploitation necessarily mean extinction?
  • Seasonal variation in availability and consumption of army ants by Nigerian chimpanzees
  • Social dynamics of bi-male mountain gorilla groups
  • The development of species-typical communicative behaviours in chimpanzees
  • Food begging and transfer in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus): assessing relationship quality?
  • Sleeping site selection of olive baboons in Gashaka Gumti National Park, Nigeria
  • The effect of reproductive state on the sociality of female olive baboons: evidence from a field study in Nigeria

Comparative Functional Anatomy
  • A geometric morphometric study into the ontogeny of the subadult gorilla and chimpanzee scapula with relation to locomotion
  • Intra-inter specific variation and sexual dimorphism in the occipital bone and palate of great apes and humans: a geometric morphometric approach
  • Timing of crown formation in molar teeth
  • An analysis of variation in the tibia of great apes and humans: implications for STW 514a and STW 514b
  • Bipedal wading
  • Climate-related variation of the human nasal cavity
  • Comparative positional behaviour in three captive callitrichid species: Leontopithecus chrysomelas, Saguinus imperator and Cebuella pygmaea
  • Encephalisation and the origins of human food processing: food for thought
  • Hominid body mass estimation: a comparison of predictors and methods
  • Human, ape and fossil hominid growth and development
  • Patterns of cranial dimorphism and extended growth in extant hominoid primates: implications for social and reproductive behaviour
  • Sexual dimorphism in the primate innominate bone
  • Taxonomic utility of the fossil hominid basicranium and palate: a comparative 3d morphometric analysis
  • The effect of diet and mandibular gape upon the functional morphology of the Catarrhini temporomandibular joint: an approach using geometric morphometricsThe significance of dental roots
  • The significance of eye orbits in human evolution
  • Tools, hands and interpretations: Analysing the hand grips of chimpanzees
  • Does internal bone structure of the humerus reflect locomotor behaviour in extant apes and fossil hominins?
  • Effects of infant carry and play positions on achievement of developmental milestones
  • Getting a grip on the past: trabecular structure in the fifth metacarpal head of extant and fossil hominoids
  • Hand proportions and body mass in primates
  • Inter-specific scaling of articular surface areas in the primate calcaneus
  • One of these sides is not like the other: dental fluctuating asymmetry in four genera of apes
  • Scaling of navicular articular facet size and shape with body mass and intermembral index (IMI) in 51 primate species
  • The functional morphology of the forelimb of Perodicticus potto and Lagothrix lagotricha
  • The root of the matter: dental development in South African hominins, revisited

Palaeoanthropology and Human Evolution
  • A craniometric study of fossil calvaria from the Sima de los Huesos, Atapuerca
  • A morphometric assessment of the Olduvai hominid 48 clavicle
  • Hominid palaeodemography: the Neanderthals
  • The deciduous dentition of Griphopithecus: morphometric analysis of a middle Miocene hominoid
  • A comparative analysis of the proximal pedal phalanges of Homo antecessor
  • A reassessment of the odontometric variation of the Krapina dental assemblage using a cervical margin odontometric method of measurement: an evaluation of the method and statistics employed
  • An analysis of enamel hypoplasias and other dental conditions in an early bronze age 1a population from Bab Edh-dhra, southern Jordan
  • Ecomorphological analysis of extant bovid forelimbs and its applications to fossil bovids from 3 ma Makapansgat, South Africa
  • Hominoid phylogeny: a test using geometric morphometrics
  • Homo ergaster: female philopatry or dispersal?
  • How adoption of a more meat-based diet facilitated and accelerated hominid ranging out of Africa
  • How many species at Pasalar? A study in molar morphology
  • Measuring variation in pattern and degree of craniofacial sexual dimorphism between different modern human populations
  • One foot in the past: the degree of halux abduction of the OH 8 foot
  • Reconstructing the past: an ecological diversity analysis of Olduvai bed II above and below the Lemuta Member
  • The effects of East African lake periods and the broader environmental context on human evolution
  • The muddle in the middle Pleistocene: can the development of the maxilla and canine fossa from birth to adulthood shed new light on the classification of juvenile Atapuerca specimen atd6-69 as the new species Homo antecessor?
  • The Neanderthal and Homo erectus pelvis in human evolution
  • The Neanderthal mandibular configuration as a diagnostic taxonomic characteristic
  • Was the Levant a refuge for Neanderthals during climatic extremes in Europe?
  • Hominin evolution in phylogenetic context
  • The morphology of the enamel-dentine junction in Neanderthal molars
  • The phylogenetic and functional significance of Orrorin tugenensis, assessed through quantitative analyses of hominoid femoral morphology

Mate Choice, Sex and Reproduction
  • An evolutionary perspective on tactics and preferences in human mate selection: evidence from lonely hearts advertisements
  • Are both food aversions and an increased level of ethnocentrism in the first trimester of pregnancy evolutionary adaptations to protect the developing foetus and its mother?
  • Difference and effects of migration on mate height preference using Japanese and white Caucasian populations
  • Ethnocentricity in pregnancy
  • Facedate: an investigation into the mate choices made on a collection of facial photographs
  • Human mating strategies and their relationship with sexually determined personality traits
  • Investigating patterns of female ovarian cyclicity in semifree-ranging mandrills
  • Male choice: potential male preferences for female external genital morphology
  • Male parental investment and pair bond stability: an empirical test of marriage as a reproductive contract
  • Masturbation in female primates: taxonomic distribution, proximate causes and potential evolutionary functions
  • Mechanisms and functions of homosexual behaviour: a case study of wild Hanuman langur monkeys
  • Mechanisms and functions of ovulatory desynchronisation in Hanuman langur monkeys
  • Reproductive endocrinology in males in relation to Bangladeshi migration
  • Sexual swelling colour change: the evolution of full colour vision in primates and the accurate analysis of colour
  • Sex, somatype and socioecology: the impact of westernization on body-shape preferences
  • Socio-economic status and testosterone: the trade-off between current and future reproduction in British male
  • The measurement of urinary LH levels using LH detection kits and radioimmunoassays
  • Evolutionary roots of gender differences in risk-seeking behaviour
  • Inferring ancestral marriage and mating strategies in Indo-European societies
  • The evolution of human mate choice: shifting gender ideologies and the impact of the demographic transition on mate choice preferences
  • Tracing the evolution of human homosexuality: evidence for the kin selection hypothesis

Human Evolutionary Ecology
  • Altruism in London: deprivation as an indicator
  • An evolution of altruistic punishment: do altruistic punishers receive a good reputation, and is this individually beneficial?
  • An evolutionary perspective on intelligence, fertility and unplanned childbirths: a test of predictions in a British cohort
  • An investigation into evolutionary explanations of the type ii diabetes epidemic: the role of physical activity levels
  • Costly signalling in religious groups: the American congregational giving study
  • Differential grandparental investment based on two nationalities (British and Bulgarian), gender and birth order
  • Fear for your life: an empirical study of evolutionary hypotheses of OCD and anxiety in relation to risk-avoidance and accident proneness
  • Game-theoretic modelling of paternity certainty and male provisioning strategies: a theoretical model and its application to hominid reproductive energetics
  • Grandmothering in evolutionary perspective: a dynamic model of population growth
  • Kin residency, sexual conflict and lateral pressures on fertility desires, behaviours and outcomes in Tanzania
  • Maternal nutrition and sex ratio biases in Ethiopia
  • Testing the grandmothering hypothesis: the provisioning of Homo erectus infants and juveniles.
  • The roles of phylogenesis and ethnogenesis in the development of Turkmen woven assemblages: a case study in the evolution of cultural diversification
  • Cooperation under conflict: an example involving neighbourhoods in Belfast, Northern Ireland
  • Gift-giving in Mbendjele hunter-gatherers: an investigation into the adaptive origins of cooperation
  • Gossip games: The co-evolution of cooperation and communication
  • Kinship in Sino-Tibetan language family: a comparative phylogenetic approach
  • Sharing is not caring: an agent-based model of selfish food distribution and consumption patterns
  • The evolution of short stature and life history in the extinct Barrinean pygmies
  • The evolutionary salesman: submissive behaviour enhances compliance in persuasive communication
  • Warfare in human evolution: an ethnographic approach

  • Human genetic adaptation to high elevation-the potential role of genetic polymorphisms in Ethiopian populations
  • The genealogical relationship of y-chromosomes in the Sakya of Bangladesh, Nepal and northeast India
  • The history of tuberculosis in human populations: inferences from the Nrampi gene
  • Y chromosome genetic history of eastern Mediterranean and Transcaucasian populations; implications for the Neolithic population growth and the genetic affinities of Cypriot populations

Research seminars and activities

Biological Anthropology Seminars

Attendance is compulsory for all post-graduate students. Tea, coffee and snacks are provided half an hour before the seminar starts. Afterwards, speaker, members of staff and post-graduates normally go out for drinks and often also for dinner. This is an opportunity for staff and students to meet informally.

Examples from previous lists of speakers:
(See also the Biological Anthropology Seminar Series)

  • Daryl Shanley (University of Manchester): Evolution of menopause
  • Mariko Hiraiwa-Hasegawa (Senshu University & University of Tokyo): Patterns of homicide in Japan from an evolutionary perspective
  • lona Blue (South Bank University): Urban health in developing countries
  • Robin Allaby (University of Manchester and UMIST): The domestication of wheat in the Near East: molecular evidence
  • Nyovani Madise (University of Southampton): Patterns of child mortality in Malawi
  • Mark Collard (UCL Department of Anthropology): Cladistics and the reconstruction of early hominid phylogenies
  • Randy Sussman (SUNY Stony Brook): Who made the early Oldowan tools? Fossil evidence for tool behaviour in the Plio-Pleistocene hominids
  • Chris McManus (St Mary's Hospital, London): Evolutionary aspects of brain laterality: Why most people are right-handed
  • Andrea Migliano (UCL Department of Anthropology): Convergent Evolution of African, Asian and Melanesian pygmies
  • Jeroen Smaers (UCL Department of Anthropology): Brains, behaviour, and how to link them across millions of years: the evolution of functionally specialized neural circuits in primates
  • Andrew King (Royal Veterinary College): Living on the edge: How social relationships define baboon success in the Namib Desert
  • Lisa Debruine (University of Aberdeen): Evoked culture and mate preferences
  • Dave Begun (University of California at Davis): Hominine origins in Europe: Encephalization and orthogrady
  • Asifa Majid (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics): Celebrity and the Environment: Fame, Wealth and Power in Conservation
  • Chris Sandbrook (Cambridge University): Power, politics and public-private partnerships: investigating a new approach to nature-based tourism in Uganda
  • Rebecca Drury (Fauna & Flora International): Hungry for success: the social drivers of urban demand for wild animals in Vietnam
  • Nichola Raihani (Zoological Society of London): Crime and punishment: insights from a non-human model system

Non-departmental seminar series

UCL and nearby academic institutions organise numerous seminar series which often host word-class speakers. Attendance is optional for graduate students, but it is expected and highly recommended that students use the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the latest developments in Evolutionary Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology. You can also attend one of the many seminar series organised by other sections of the department, given that we highly value a multiple field approach towards anthropology.


First destinations of recent graduates include:

  • Stephen Maynard and Associates: Researcher
  • Support Services Partnership: Administrator
  • Office for National Statistics: Research Officer
  • Imperial College: PhD: Social Determinants of Health
  • Environment Agency: Assistant Scientist
  • Polish Academy of Science: Researcher
  • House of Commons: Senior Office Clerk
  • Research Now PLC: Project Executive
  • Future Science Group: Assistant Commissioning Editor
  • National Trust: Deputy Warden

Find out more about London graduates' careers by visiting the Careers Group (University of London) website:

Notable MSC HEB Alumni with subsequent Academic Careers

[graduation year] (date of reference: October 2015)

Dr Rebecca Sear [1994]
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK

Dr William Harcourt-Smith [1997]
American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA

Dr Andrew Fowler [1999]
Takamanda-Mone Landscape at Wildlife Conservation Society, Cameroon

Dr Claire Santarelli [1999]
University of Chester, UK

Dr Jamshid Tehrani [2000]
Department of Anthropology, Durham University, UK

Dr Matt Grove [2002]
Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool, UK

Dr Natasha Arora [2003]
Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Dr Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel [2003]
Department of Anthropology, University at Buffalo, New York, USA

Prof Stephen Lycett [2003]
Department of Anthropology, University at Buffalo, SUNY, USA

Dr Kit Opie [2004]
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Department of Anthropology, UCL, UK

Dr Heidi Colleran [2005]
Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France

Dr Kesson Magid [2005]
Department of Anthropology, Durham University, UK

Selected Publications Resulting From MSC HEB Theses Research

[BOLD = Student Name]

  • Sommer, Volker; Alison Denham, Katherine Little (2002). Post-conflict behaviour in wild Indian langur monkeys: Avoidance of opponents but rarely affinity. Animal Behaviour
  • Lycett, Stephen J. & Mark Collard (2005). Do homoiologies impede phylogenetic analyses of the fossil hominids? An assessment based on extant papionin craniodental morphology. Journal of Human Evolution 49: 618-642.
  • Sommer, Volker; Peter Schauer & Diana Kyriazis (2006). A wild mixture of motivations: Same-sex mounting in Indian langur monkeys. Pp 238–272 in: Volker Sommer & Paul Vasey (eds). Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: Evolutionary Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Fowler, Andrew; Yianna Koutsioni & Volker Sommer (2007). Leaf-swallowing in Nigerian chimpanzees: Assumed evidence for self-medication. Primates 48: 73–76
  • Schöning, Caspar; Darren Ellis, Andrew Fowler & Volker Sommer (2007). Army ant prey availability and consumption by chimpanzees at Gashaka (Nigeria). Journal of Zoology 271: 125–133
  • Opie Kit & Camilla Power (2008). Grandmothering and female coalitions: a basis for matrilineal priority? Pp. 168–186 in: NJ Allen, H Callan, RIM Dunbar, W James (eds). Early Human Kinship: From Sex to Social Reproduction. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Mace, Ruth & Heidi Colleran (2009). Kin influence on the decision to start using modern contraception: A longitudinal study from rural Gambia. American Journal of Human Biology 21: 472-477
  • King, Andrew J.; Claire Narraway, Lindsay Hodgson, Aidan Weatherill, Volker Sommer & Seirian Sumner (2010). Performance of human groups in social foraging: The role of communication in consensus decision-making. Biology Letters 7: 237–240
  • Howarth, Helena, Volker Sommer & Fiona Jordan (2010). Visual depictions of female genitalia differ depending on source. BMJ Medical Humanities 36: 75–79
  • Perry George & Ruth Mace (2010). The lack of acceptance of evolutionary approaches to human behaviour. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 8: 105-12
  • Koutsioni, Yianna & Volker Sommer (2011). The bush as pharmacy and supermarket. Plant use by human and non-human primates at Gashaka. Pp 135–230 (Ch. 05) in: Volker Sommer & Caroline Ross (eds), Primates of Gashaka. Socioecology and Conservation in Nigeria's Biodiversity Hotspot. New York: Springer
  • Hughes, Nicola; Norm Rosen, Neil Gretsky & Volker Sommer (2011). Will the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee go extinct? Models derived from intake rates of ape sanctuaries. Pp 493–523 (Ch. 14): in Volker Sommer & Caroline Ross (eds), Primates of Gashaka. Socioecology and Conservation in Nigeria's Biodiversity Hotspot. New York: Springer
  • Silva, Antonio S.; Virpi Lummaa, Ulrich Muller, Michel Raymond & Alexandra Alvergne (2012). Facial attractiveness and fertility in populations with low levels of modern birth control. Evolution and Human Behavior 33: 491–498
  • Holland, Jo; Antonio S. Silva & Ruth Mace (2012). Lost letter measure of variation in altruistic behaviour in 20 neighbourhoods. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43294. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043294
  • Kim A. Bard, Sophie Dunbar, Vanessa Maguire‐Herring, Yvette Veira, Kathryn G. Hayes & Kelly McDonald (2013). Gestures and social‐emotional communicative development in chimpanzee infants. American Journal of Primatology. doi: 10.1002/ajp.22189
  • Villmoare, Brian; Christophe Dunmore, Shaun Kilpatrick, Nadja Oertelt, Michael J. Depew & Jennifer Fish (2014). Craniofacial modularity, character analysis, and the evolution of the mid-face in early African hominins. Journal of Human Evolution 77: 143–154. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.06.014
  • Olsen, Katharina & Volker Sommer (2014). Biased hand-use in captive emperor tamarins (Saguinus imperator). Journal of Comparative Psychology 128: 172-180
  • Tsegai, Zewdi; T.L. Kivell, T. Gross, D.H. Pahr, N.H. Nguyen, J.B. Smaers, M.M. Skinner (2015). Trabecular bone structure correlated with hand posture and use in hominoids. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78781. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078781

Transferable Skills

Research skills

Students learn how to complete a quantitative, scientific research project, from inception to data analysis and writing up. Many of our students go on to do PhDs.

Personal effectiveness

Students learn how to conduct and complete a challenging, cross-disciplinary scientific masters degree.

Communication skills

Students make a presentation of project ideas to a group. 
Students learn to write up scientific results.

Teamworking and networking

Students are often made aware of, and often make contact with, evolutionary anthropologists throughout the world during this MSc. This provides an ideal starting point for trying to develop future careers in evolutionary anthropology.

Course Tutor

Prof Volker Sommer
Room 241, 14 Taviton Street
Tel: 020 7679 8837

Core Teaching Staff In Evolutionary Anthropology

Ruth Mace (Professor, Evolutionary Anthropology)
Human behavioural ecology, life history, evolution of human diversity, with regional expertise in Africa and China

María Martinón-Torres (Lecturer, Palaeoanthropology and Human Evolution)
Hominin palaeobiology, palaeopathology, dental anthropology

Andrea Migliano (Lecturer, Human Behavioural Ecology)
Human morphological, physiological, developmental and genetic variation

Christophe Soligo (Senior Lecturer, Primate and Human Evolution)
Evolutionary anatomy, primate radiations, palaeoenvironment

Volker Sommer (Professor, Evolutionary Anthropology)
Social and sexual behaviour in primates; field studies of monkeys and apes in Asia and Africa

Lucio Vinicius (Lecturer, Biological Anthropology)
Brain evolution and life history in humans

Kit Opie (Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Palaeoanthropology)
Evolution of primate social behavior, Bayesian phylogenetic methods

Anna Barros (Teaching fellow, Palaeoanthropology)
Geometric morphometrics and applications to hominoid fossil evidence; comparing patterns of intra- and interspecific variation

Associated UCL Staff Teaching on the Course

Andrew Garrard (Reader, Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Archaeology)
Palaeolithic and Neolithic of Western Asia, especially Neanderthal and early modern human societies, late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, origins of food production

Simon Hillson (Professor, Bioarchaeology)
Dental anthropology, bioarchaeology, skeletal biology

Matt Pope (Senior Research Fellow, Palaeolithic Archaeology)
Lithic technology and taphonomy, archaeology of Neanderthals, Palaeolithic colonisation of North-West Europe

James Steele (Reader, Archaeology)
Evolution of speech, human population dispersals, cultural transmission.

Mark Thomas (Professor, Evolutionary Genetics)
Molecular phylogenetics of extinct species using ancient DNA, cultural evolutionary modelling, molecular biology

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